Women in business bring diversity to perspectives, add a creative denture and offer ample space to imagination. They not only add substance and credibility to whatever they do but also stand accountable for it.
Today, I bring you an extraordinary story of Lu Li, founder of ‘Blooming Founders’. Her struggles are not only relatable but offer some of life’s best lessons. Years of relentless determination and invincible passion led her to the creation of Blooming Founders. A platform where ambitious women learn how to build a sustainable business, get focus and meet like-minded entrepreneurs in a friendly, collaborative environment.
You own a rich experience of McKinsey & Company and Procter & Gamble, how was your journey like before Blooming Founders?
I am the only child of Chinese parents, so, the pressure was immense. I was raised in a way where I was expected to fulfill all the expectations, have a good education, work for the best company and have a great life. I wanted that too! I studied hard and managed to get a position in McKinsey. Unfortunately, I did not like being there. End of 2008 was a bad phase for that sector and I didn’t want to work on cost-cutting projects. Once you step out all by yourself and get exposed to a corporate environment, you see so many things, develop your own ideas, it is then you analyze what exactly you want to do.
I have always been somebody interested in growth, markets, consumers, people related things. While moving ahead in my career path, I couldn’t see the impact I was making. I like strategic things but I also like tangible things. I joined P&G, the experience was very similar to consulting except that you work with physical products and work on the brand building side and closely with customers. I worked there for 4 years but rose to a point where I got stuck with middle management. By that time, I knew my strengths, I was a person with a lot of ideas. I opted out because I felt my hands are tied, I had a difficult boss too. I could have applied my industry expertise elsewhere but I knew I could end up in a similar situation again.
And then, you set up your own Image Consulting business…
Yes, I am a very tolerant person having an experimental bend. I have launched products across Western Europe and I felt I could do things better than other people so, why not set up my own business. I trained as a Personal Stylist and an Image Consultant and started my practice. I helped women get more comfortable with themselves, raise their confidence levels through their appearance, behavior and communication skills. Very soon, I realized the business model wasn’t working out and you end up spending all the time in business development. There was very little repeat business.
What made you move to London soon after that?
I left Switzerland because I felt it might be too small of a country to be an entrepreneur and subsequently moved to London. I had this great idea about the Chinese tourism market, how it’s rapidly growing and how the Western world doesn’t really understand Chinese culture as they should. I set up another consulting business and that was focused on helping retailers, hotels and people in tourism industry understand Chinese travelers strategically, so they can market themselves better. It was very easy to find clients. After a year, I realized I couldn’t scale up the business as it’s such a niche proposition. If you are not of Chinese heritage, a Western educative with a passion to travel and somewhat of a risk taker, it’s very unlikely for you to do such business. Soon, I felt that I am an entrepreneur who wants to create more of a scalable business than do all the work herself. I lost interest in this business…
In some way or the other, you were moving in the right direction which eventually led to the foundation of Blooming Founders. Did you feel that you have hit the right chords?
There was an overlap of six months between the two businesses to help me going with the new one and wrapping up the old. Blooming Founders as a company aims to create a platform and an infrastructure that supports female entrepreneurs. All throughout my journey, I saw that there are a lot less women who tend to do something of their own and even if they do, they end up being solo founders like me. I did have issues in this business too because I was basically a woman supporting other women. Many people (and mostly men) did not understand that I am setting up a business. I did feel a lot of times that they aren’t taking me seriously. However, I am very happy now, I have found something that aligns me value-wise, impact-wise and also in the form of business I am looking to build. I have a bigger vision now, also financially it has become sustainable… So everything looks well.
The golden period for women entrepreneurs has finally started, they are being graciously accepted and are getting the much deserved attention. What is your take on that?
Yes, I feel so. There is a lot of buzz around women entrepreneurship. However, there are still a lot of things in the ecosystem that are not favorable. It’s conscious and unconscious bias. There is still a very small number of women getting investments. That’s a big hindrance for women to build bigger businesses. There was, in fact, a research that said, “The more ambitious a woman is, the more under-capitalized she would be, because she thinks she can pretty much pull off anything”. I think it will take at least a decade for women to build visibly more multi-million dollar businesses or to see tangible differences, when their business would not be mistaken for charity anymore.
What do you feel are some of the challenges that women entrepreneurs face?
I think, the biggest challenge is that 70% of the women that I interact with are solo founders, they lack team, resources, knowledge, and they have different starting positions as compared to men. The other challenge is lack of confidence or a big enough vision. Women are very passionate about their ideas but they tend to think smaller. They have a dream but don’t know how to get there. The last one is lack of capital as only 8% of venture capital is being invested in female founders at the moment. There is a big funding cap and will take a long time to close it.
You have also written a book, “Dear Female Founder”, what advice would you like to give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
I feel that a lot of women hold themselves back before even starting, so the biggest advice would be to believe in your idea and just start. This is one thing that has helped me in my journey and will help them too!